When I joined Allen & Overy's press team in 1999, legal PR was a relatively new concept. We were a team of just two and law firms were only beginning to realise the importance of profile and the need to tell the world about themselves. Faxes were still being used to issue press releases, journalists' details were held on ring-bound files which quickly became outdated and as you'd expect Legal Week was a weekly print publication.
Twenty years on, PR/comms – whatever you like to call it – is no longer the preserve of the largest law firms. Whether provided in-house or by an agency, many smaller firms, particularly the boutiques, are embracing PR.
So what's changed over the last two decades?
The explosion of social media has made it far easier for law firms and other professional services providers to push out content in the form of blogs, videos and podcasts. But this hasn’t usurped the importance of placing stories in the press, a key role of the legal PR. If anything, the third party credibility provided by the media has made published content even more valuable.
A proliferation of online titles has led to increased opportunities for coverage but I have noted one change for the worse. Thanks to the 24 hour news cycle, journalists are more desk bound so it is harder to get to know them on a personal level, to build up a rapport and to persuade them to meet clients. You have to work harder to attract a reporter's attention and because comment is usually issued by email, things can get a little lost in translation.
On balance though, the modern media age has brought about more opportunities for positive engagement and the faster pace has made a career in PR whatever the field, a more exciting and engaging prospect.
And while the pace and feel of communications has changed, the fundamentals of good PR are exactly the same – the ability to spot a good story and/or news hook, persuasiveness, tenacity and an understanding of the nuances of a law firm.
Somewhat poignantly, the PRCA in conjunction with leading consultancy Byfield have just published the first ever guide to legal PR, an essential read for anyone considering a career in this exciting branch of PR. You can download the guide here.
It’s hard to reconcile the face of legal PR today with how it all began. The relaxation of rules allowing lawyers to advertise in the ‘80s and the ongoing deregulation that allowed the profession’s development also paved the way for significant changes in PR and communications for the legal industry.